Opposition to Russia’s ‘Anti-Gay’ bill gathers pace

Opposition to legislation designed to outlaw the promotion of homosexuality to minors is gathering pace, both around the world and in Russia itself.

The bill, which would punish any “public activities promoting sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and transgender identity” with a fine of up to $1,600 (50,000 roubles) was passed by an overwhelming majority in its first reading in the St Petersburg City Duma amidst some frighteningly stupid rhetoric.

Vitaly Milonov, who wrote the draft legislation, was initially relatively restrained and restricted himself only to bland comments like “the rising popularity of sexual deviations negatively affects our children”, but others were much more colourful in their commentary.

Take as an example, this quote from a city councilor who had earlier proposed banning the rainbow symbol:

“On St. Petersburg day we had posters all over the city with portraits of Peter the Great and a brightly colored rainbow under it. How can there be a rainbow, which is the international gay symbol? And we have day-care centers called Rainbow and drug stores called Rainbow all over the city!… We are going to die out soon.”

(This quote, by the way, is borrowed from a brilliantly titled NYT blog “Russia’s War Against Rainbows”.

Because the bill was being sponsored by the ruling United Russia party that dominates the City Duma the next two readings required to turn the bill into law were expected to be little more than a formality. However, opposition to the bill has gradually grown and it now looks like the City Duma are going to think again. The second reading of the bill has been postponed to allow time for a face-saving review of the legislation’s wording.

It would be nice to think that the reason for this is the level of domestic opposition to the bill. There has certainly been strong criticism of the bill at home – for example protests in St Petersburg where protesters held up placards urging politicians not to be so afraid of them – “I am a lesbian – do not be afraid of me, Babich!”. Others noted that United Russia’s willingness to promote this bill was linked to their sliding poll numbers – “they need to get as many votes as they can, so they are appealing to the least educated, downtrodden section of people who have a lot of phobias, including homophobia,” said Igor Kochetkov, the head of the LGBT group Coming Out. But from what I can tell, it hasn’t really struck much of a chord with the wider Russian population who on the whole look to be fairly apathetic about the proposals.

Instead, it seems to me as though it is only really since international criticism began to gather pace that the bill’s progress has slowed. Whereas initially only activist and human rights groups like Amnesty International were publicly objecting to the bill, now politicians and governments around the world are sitting up and taking notice. Not all have had the courage to take a firm stance in opposition to the bill – for example, the Australian Parliament debated a motion to censure the Russian Government earlier today and, rather ludicrously voted not to take any action. But, perhaps most importantly, the US State Department has come out firmly in opposition – in a statement earlier today a spokesman told reporters:

“We are deeply concerned by proposed local legislation in Russia that would severely restrict freedoms of expression and assembly for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals, and indeed all Russians. As Secretary Clinton has said, gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.”

It’s unclear what will happen next with this bill but I would imagine (and very much hope) that it will be quietly shelved to avoid further embarrassment for the Kremlin.

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